Last Season: 57-25, 1st Seed in East, NBA Champions
Off-season Gains: Self-respect, relief, renewed faith in God, SF Mike Dunleavy Jr. (trade), C Chris Andersen (free agent)
Off-season Stock: It'd be cheaper to buy actual property in Cleveland.
League Pass Team?: Maybe if they're playing somebody good, but I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to catch them.
NBA Champions, really? Like, for last season? That can't be right. Hmm, apparently it checks out. Googled it and everything. Did you know they came back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Warriors? Feels like something that should be mentioned more. Seriously though, the Finals offered redemption for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith and even Kevin Love's at times GIF-worthy defense. They got it done and won one for "The Land," and no one can ever take that away from them. Well done, lads.
The question before us is how they'll follow it up? Call me crazy, but I think motivation will be an issue, at least during the regular season. That they're safely ensconced in the warm, comforting bosom of the Eastern Conference will only exacerbate that. What do they care about finishing with home court at this point? Who is LeBron James afraid of in the East at this point? Toronto? Boston? They could put together an All-Star team composed of the rest of the conference and the Cavs would still probably be favored against them in the playoffs. If they're not set up to be the ultimate "light switch" team this season, then I don't know anything and I'll offer everyone a 100 percent refund for this preview.
What's there to even say about James anymore? He's amazing, he's fantastic, he's otherworldly. He suddenly stopped being able to make threes last year and it didn't even matter. Now that Tim Duncan's retired, James is unquestionably the our greatest active player left and it's certainly arguable he's higher than Duncan in the all-time pantheon.
Also like Duncan, Bron's really, really skinny now, which is bizarre. I'm not saying it casts his bulked up physique in past seasons in suspicious light, but Barry Bonds thinks something smells fishy here, and not just because he's the Marlins' hitting coach.
The way the narrative has spun with Irving has been incredible to observe. We all wondered how his game would fit with James as a ball dominant point guard but LeBron wound up being the best thing for his career, and not just because of the championship. James papers over all of Irving's weaknesses. Kyrie doesn't get people involved enough? No problem, James is the point guard now and Irving's free to just score. Kyrie doesn't play defense well enough? It's cool, James has enough cache to get better defenders on the roster to cover for him. A point guard who can play "D" is a luxury anyway, not a necessity. Irving must be the envy of scoring point guards across the league. He's got the easiest job, with none of the unpleasant responsibilities the others have to fake their way through.
Kevin Love is the guy I think will have the biggest year for them during the regular season. The pressure's off him completely. He can just go play now. And I think with James skinnier and looking to take less punishment during the regular season, more post opportunities will be available for Love, keeping him from just hanging out at the three-point line all the time. It won't ever be like his Minnesota heyday again, but my guess is the offense will go through Love quite a bit this year while James chills out.
I'm not as optimistic things will go as swimmingly for Tristan Thompson. He's reportedly dating a Kardashian now, and not one of the good ones. I think he's seeing the one who ruined James Harden last season. Considering that Thompson is the linchpin of their defense, a relentless rebounder on both ends and someone who can hedge all the way out to the three-point line and still recover to protect the paint, this may prove to be problematic.
Also, J.R. Smith is still unsigned for some reason. The Cavs own his "Bird" rights, meaning they can go over the cap to re-sign him, but the thing about that is Smith's agent knows that too and is reportedly asking for $15 million a year for his client. Smith, who played for just $5 million last year, has the Cavs over a barrel and he knows it. Owner Dan Gilbert's luxury tax bill is not his problem. What choice do they have but to meet his price? Start Iman Shumpert instead? Those drives to the rim might be a little wobbly.
Shumpert was reprehensibly awful last season and there doesn't seem to be much hope from the rest of the bench either. Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov are both gone, enjoying the spoils of the googleplex dollar salary cap. Mo Williams, somehow only 33-years-old, will have to handle the backup duties for Irving, which gives the Cavs an injury-prone backup for an injury prone starter, but I'm sure that'll be fine. They signed old LeBron running mate Chris "Birdman" Andersen to be their backup five, and he was done two years ago. Richard Jefferson decided to postpone his retirement because why would you quit when people willingly pay you to put up a 9.7 PER? And James Jones is back to LeBron James' Flavor Flav/the Cavs' representative in the three-point shoot-out.
About the only interesting pieces on the bench are Channing Frye, who didn't do much in the Finals but causes plenty of match-up problems against teams who aren't pyromancers; and Mike Dunleavy Jr., whom they acquired in trade with the Bulls for Albert Miralles, a 34-year-old Spaniard who may or may not be fictional. He's never played a minute in the league, but check out his transaction history via Basketball-reference.com at the bottom of the article* (it's fascinating).
Anywhoozle, Dunleavy's about to turn 36 and had an injury-plagued season with the Bulls last year, but he can still shoot threes decently well and he's one of the league's most notorious sneaky goons, so Spurs fans are almost obligated to like him. I can already see him planting an elbow in Draymond Green's solar plexus next June.
It'd be cynical to suggest that the Cavs will have another "Bye" to the Finals, but I'm not about to pick against them either. James could take an in-season vacation in Miami for the entire winter and nobody would say a peep about it. The bench looks thin, but you know they'll sign a couple of ring-chasing vets after the trade deadline for peanuts. Again, they've taken a page from the Spurs' book: even as defending champions, all the focus and attention will be elsewhere -- on Kevin Durant and the Warriors. The Cavs will exist in relative anonymity the whole year, with zero pressure, knowing they're playing with house money forever.
It's a fun place to be. And the idea of James playing basketball without the weight of the world on his shoulders sounds both awesome and terrifying.
*September 25, 2002: Traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers (as a future 2004 2nd round draft pick) with Lamond Murrayto the Toronto Raptorsfor Michael Stewart and a 2007 1st round draft pick (Jared Dudley was later selected).
August 2, 2005: As part of a 5-team trade, traded by the Miami Heat with Qyntel Woods, a 2006 2nd round draft pick (Edin Bavcic was later selected) and a 2008 2nd round draft pick (Nikola Pekovic was later selected) to the Boston Celtics; the Boston Celtics traded Antoine Walkerto the Miami Heat; the Memphis Grizzlies traded Andre Emmett, James Posey and Jason Williams to the Miami Heat; the Memphis Grizzliestraded Greg Ostertag to the Utah Jazz; the Miami Heat traded Eddie Jones to the Memphis Grizzlies; the Miami Heat traded Rasual Butler to the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets; the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets traded Roberto Duenas to the Miami Heat; the Utah Jazztraded Curtis Borchardt to the Boston Celtics; the Utah Jazz traded Raul Lopez to the Memphis Grizzlies; and the Utah Jazz traded Kirk Snyder to the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets.
December 9, 2011: Traded by the Boston Celtics to the Milwaukee Bucks for Keyon Dooling and a 2013 2nd round draft pick. Boston did not receive the 2nd round draft pick from Milwaukee because it was top 44 protected.